Death Valley contains many canyons where old mine shafts, cabins, millsites and various ghosts of past mining operations lay silent to be discovered by the exploring traveler.
One such place of interest is the Minnietta cabin and mine in the Argus range. The well maintained cabin is one of the many mining shacks in Death Valley adopted by off-roading groups. Travelers caught in the harsh elements can find a place of refuge, or like us, simply camp in our truck nearby to enjoy exploring the ruins and equipment abandoned where it was last operated.
The type of equipment spans the century from old west wood trams and iron rails to 1940s and 50s boilers and trucks. Rust comes slowly in the dry desert leaving the ruins preserved for the history buff to puzzle out how the mines were operated. My hubby once worked as a stationary engineer and he loves to examine the old steam boilers and machinery closely.
A favorite “short cut” into Death Valley from the west side of the Panamint Range is to go across Goler Wash. Be sure to check road conditions before entering as one year we found so many rock falls it took the joy out of driving it.
From the rocky road into Goler we were able to gain access to the Barker Ranch, infamous for once being a hideout for the notorious Manson gang in 1969.
The serene beauty of the area where this ranch is located belies the heinous deeds of Charles Manson and his gang who used it to hide from the pursuit of lawmen after their murder of five people, including Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger. The Barker Ranch is where the group was apprehended by Inyo County Sheriffs. You can read the story as an insider law enforcement account in the book Desert Shadows. Ironically my hubby worked where Manson was incarcerated for a portion of serving his life sentence.
This summer 11 miles of Highway 1 was cut off to the rest of the world and only accessible via the long, windy route of Nacimiento Fergusson Rd. that takes us through the Fort Hunter Liggett military base.
Either end of this section of highway was cut off after storms brought long needed rains following a drought and terrible wildfires in Big Sur. The Pfeiffer bridge to the north was demolished by Cal Trans after deeming it unsafe due to age and storm damage. The massive Mud Creek Slide between Gorda and Ragged Point made the highway in between those 12 miles inaccessible.
In latter May of 2017 the Mud Creek Slide along the Big Sur coastline became the largest in known California history. The slide has changed the shape of the coastline, looking like the mountain is sticking out a big toe into the ocean. The new toe of landfill is reported to be 16 acres. The slide has closed Hwy 1 between Ragged Point and Gorda for at least a *year.
We had the privilege of walking down the middle of the closed off highway beginning in Gorda at the road closure gate when construction crews were not at work. It is a short hike to where the 2 lane highway has been literally wiped off the mountain side with a view of the new toe of coastline. As we walked we saw water seeping out of the mountain, running alongside the road and actually seeping up out of the asphalt! The mountain was not yet finished moving, further hampering repairs. Read more
Part of the fun of planning your trip is getting out a good map and choosing where you want to explore. Guide books are very helpful with deciding where to drive and camp. Just be aware that back roads and campsites can change dramatically due to the harsh elements.
A favorite 4×4 road into Death Valley was impassable the last time we visited Goler Wash in 2015. A large rock slide had enveloped the road making progress so slow and rough it took the fun out of the journey – nearly an hour to travel 1 mile. We like the Goler route as it usually a “short cut” from the west side of the Panamints to visit the Barker Ranch, Stella’s Cabin, Stripped Butte and other scenic campsites. Otherwise it is a very long way around via the Park’s Highways. So, have a plan B for camping if the desert has changed the terrain from what your favorite guide book reads.
Sample itinerary with menu:
I am posting a sample itinerary of a trip we took that you can customize to your own liking.
“The difference between an adventure or an ordeal is attitude.” – Bob Bitchin
Here is my short list of important tips to help make your trip more of a fun adventure than an unpleasant ordeal.
Carry TWO spare tires. Expect to have a flat tire when exploring 4×4 roads in canyons with old mining equipment and debris. Having a 2nd spare insures that you can get out of the backcountry. There is no towing service nearby.
There is NO cell phone service in most of Death Valley. Pay phones are available at Stove Pipe Wells and Furnace Creek. 2 way radios work well most places and help when you are separated to keep tabs on each other.
Weather – our favorite time to camp is from November through April. Be prepared for snow, high winds and temperature extremes. The beauty of camping in Death Valley is that if you are too hot, simply drive to a higher elevation – or too cold, drive to a lower elevation. Death Valley boasts to have the most difference in elevation in the U.S.; Telescope peak is at 11,049 and Bad Water is 282 ft. below sea level!